Barrister Barua: Reading the truth (of communal violence)

We would have seen reconstruction work to build these Hindu temples and houses, if ‘They’ exerted any pressure. But it did not happen. I dearly wish that that Sathiya would prove me wrong. It would stop the corrosion of our bones.”

Reading the truth

by Barrister Jyotimoy Barua, translated for Alal O Dulal by Irfan Chowdhury  

What is truth? The truth, as elucidated by Valmiki and sought for eons, has become impassive in course of evolution. As truth appears in its changed contours routinely, what we hear or realise through our five senses, may seem untrue. We get puzzled.

In other words, they puzzle us. During the last week’s hartal, we were befuddled to see the boy Monir burning in flames. Confused, we thought perhaps a ‘digital conspiracy’. The photo, next day in newspapers, perhaps provoked the same suspicion – ‘photoshopped’.

We do not wail. We do not rush to rescue. We have seen more repugnant deaths. Not one or two, but hundreds. Corpses – buried and rotten under the bricks – heavied our air for months. We have no conscience. We cried in 1971. Gradually, as though the reservoir of our tears has receded, now we don’t like to waste our tears. Our thoughts are controlled digitally.

The Daily Star published a follow-up report with a photo on Sathiya on November 7, which showed an individual identified by the locals as involved in looting and setting the Hindu houses-shops ablaze, standing behind the Honourable Assistant Minister for Home Affairs, who is a government party’s worker.

To catch the eyes of the readers, the individual is encircled in red in the photo. But no explanation is provided by the government. Many powerful leaders/ministers have visited, but no one took the responsibility to uproot the ‘weeds’. How would they do it?  The ‘weeds’ are about to eat up the ‘main tree’.

In this connection, I want to remind the Ramu incident of 29 September last year. At midnight the local Jubo League, Chattra League leaders/workers started the violence by putting the ‘Lal Ching’ temple on fire. This was revealed in a state enquiry.    

Though Jubo League, Chattra League instigated the violence they had no control over subsequent events. It is not expected from the fourth tier leaders/workers. In spite of political differences, a sort of unison builds up. As a result, in the presence of a regular force juxtaposed by elite members, temples burn, houses and shops get plundered. This is clear from the news reports and video footages captured on mobile phones which followed the aftermath. Not a single tear-gas shell was fired. The marauders carried out their task in the protection of different forces.

The news of violence spread quickly – domestically and internationally – through electronic media on the night itself. Pressure mounted. The Home Affairs Minister, accompanied by senior police officials, went to Ramu the very next day in a helicopter. In his presence Buddhist temples, houses kept on burning in Ukhia, Teknaf and Patia. A Hindu temple was also set in fire in Patia.

Arriving back at the Dhaka airport, in response to a query from the journalists, the Honourable Minister exclaimed – this is an act of Jamaat-BNP. There would have been enough reasons to believe in the Honourable Minister’s words, had he said, “We have received complaints that a number of wayward youth workers/leaders of local the Jubo League, Chattra League was involved; this is unacceptable. I have instructed the police not to release any criminals regardless of their political alliance. Actions/punishment from the party will also be issued if anyone’s involvement with the incident is proven”.

Please pardon my misdemeanour. We have vivid imagination. We often cross the boundary that exists, firmly, between our wish and our ability.

We never get to know the truth during the country’s political crisis. So in Ramu’s case as well, we failed to receive what we usually term as ‘a responsible behaviour’ from anyone. Everyone started to state airy fairies.

Two of the biggest political parties that represent the people have failed to promise to take appropriate actions against the disreputable riff raffs at the grassroots level, let alone disowning them. This, however, is a good sign for the workers at grassroots level. But in the end, these riff raffs, very seldom, can play an effective role in the politics of votes.

While the senior leaders were jailed and were on the run, during the last caretaker government and the subsequent martial law period, there had been no effect of it in Ramu. The support of the general public was significant. But we cannot say that the senior leadership is innocent.

There will be significant discrepancies/miscalculations in the politics of votes following the incident in Ramu. The traditional ‘vote bank’ theory would not work – new calculations/thinking will be required.

The reason for such calculation is not merely the involvement of the local leaders in communal violence but rather the root cause would be a sense of injustice, a smell of mistrust and to keep alive a tacit threat of terror among the locals. The central leaders have failed to realise that one can build an expensive building by spending ‘a crore taka’, but that does not become a temple overnight.

Through hundred years of practice, we have transformed a wooden infrastructure into a temple. In a night’s fire along with the temple the principle of co-existence with everyone is also burnt –turned to ashes. The real culprits responsible have remained untouchable, due to the shield of power politics. This impunity burned peoples believes and turned them to ashes too.

Following the Ramu incident the investigation committee form by the Ministry of Home Affairs submitted a report. Besides the investigation team form by the I.G. of Police – to relieve the police from its responsibilities – submitted their report. Finally, the investigation committee formed under the Justice Department, as instructed by the High Court, has also submitted its report. The first and third reports have complied and included a list of names involved in the Ramu incident. The lists include names from both the incumbent and the opposition’s local workers/leaders.

Both the reports criticised the then acting police officials, Upazilla Nirbahi Officers and ‘peoples representatives’. But no recommendation is suggested in the reports to punish anyone for absconding from their responsibilities. Yet and as the state’s officials and the ‘peoples representatives’ have been let go scot-free with mild reprimands, there are demands, even today, to prosecute their negligence of duty in the court.

If asked how the names of the involved in the Ramu incidents are found, then we would need to look back a bit more. Journalists, the day after the incident meaning 30 September 2012, queried locals whether they had recognised any one. Everyone said they did not recognise anyone at night.

The Honourable Minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak conducted a closed-door meeting with the local Buddhist leaders who provided him with a list of individuals involved.

How did ‘the locals’ recognised after two days?  Needless to mention that due to the involvement of the known faces, they could not trust anyone. Then, how did ‘the locals’ trust the Honourable Minister and give him the list? Did they think he would take appropriate actions against his party’s workers-leaders?

A very childish imagination. In our country, the party is above any individuals, the image of the state is far bigger than everything. Besides, the opposition parties will try to use the existing traditional arrangements; they will claim that they are not involved.

These thoughts were perhaps right as political moves. But they made the badly effected people ‘the meat’ between the sandwiches. The Honourable Minister Jahangir Kabir Nanak also went to Sathiya. The only difference was that ‘those involved’ were seen in ‘a procession’ beforehand. I don’t know whether the Honourable Minister conducted a closed-door meeting there as well to collect the names and particulars of those involved. Even if he had collected, it is highly doubtful amid the current political turmoil whether he or his party would be able take any action at all.

Sathiya incident happened on 2 November in broad day light. The newspapers reported it on the next day. But no one’s name was mentioned. Gradually a few names came up. Babul Shaha identified 20 individuals and filed a case against another two to three hundred people. So far that is all we gained from Sathiya.

No one dared to file a case in Ramu. All seven cases, filed in the Ramu Police Station, were lodged by the police. The OC who took over from OC Nazibul is alleged to have made ‘a huge sum – worth a life’s earning’ by threatening people of arrest. The same allegation is now being heard in Sathiya. Perhaps, there will also be an ‘arrest-trade’.

Mr Mizanur Rahman, the Chairman of the Bangladesh Human Rights Commission said after visiting the area, “Police has arrested hapless innocent people, instead of those who were involved in the Pubna’s Sathiya incident. Cases are being filed against these people. This is a violation of human rights. Though the police know who were involved in the incident, for some mysterious invisible reasons they are not being arrested”

If this continues, the general public who came forward trying to protest would be apprehensive (fearing arrest or other forms of harassments) and would likely to consider their stance was wrong. In future no one would come forward to protest. The reason for thinking of future is that these types of incidents are likely to increase rather than being reduced in future.

In all almost all public meetings, the Honourable Prime Minister has listed what AL would do if returned to power. No one would dare to dispute her descriptions. But the trouble is somewhere else – the minority, as defined by the religions they practice, is losing last of their hopes hearing her words.

In our two-party political system with five years tenure, at the moment there are no logical reasons to believe that the current party will be returned to power. But what is the option then? Should the minority prepare to migrate to our next door neighbour, or should they gather the mental courage to prepare for a more severe backlash than 2001? Which one?

As neither the Honourable Prime Minister nor anyone in or outside the government is reassuring us – that such an attack would not happen or at least they will stand by our side to protect us, if it happens. Although, even if this assurance is given, whether we would trust an assurance from them is a matter for further consideration. Since, there are Hathazari, Ramu, Taindong, Saathkeera, chiris Bondor, Bogra and hundreds of many other places where our trust has been burnt.

One thing is clear from the words of the Honourable Prime Minister and other politicians are that they are a bit dubious about how the ‘number-theory’ would play up this year. Yet, they would not have been in this dilemma had they actively tried to address the root cause of the issue.

After the Sathiya incident, along with the political leaders the ‘susheels’ have also been visiting the affected areas. For example, on 8 November a ‘susheel’ team led by senior journalist Abed Khan visited the area. They held a press conference in the local press club, where Mr. Abed Khan said that Jamaat-Shibbir was involved in the Sathiya incident. Besides, a ‘secret political party’ was also involved.

Statements from a senior journalist such as himself would be much more acceptable had he named the ‘secret political party’. It is very difficult to differentiate between this statement and the governments statements. If it was true that just like Ramu here also the attack was carried out to disrupt the war criminals trial, then why the Daily Star report includes the names of government leaders/workers?

Even for the sake of argument if we consider that that was the only truth, the question remains – why have they implied the ‘secret political party’ before the police investigations are completed? Would this not influence the investigation processes? Or is it that the very objective?

If the logic is that when the Jamaat-Shibbir-BNP comes to power there will be chaos in the country, and so for the next 15 years AL has to be retained at the helm – then we also want to understand whether they want to achieve this through burning our houses.

As the minority – lives and livelihoods – are being subject to fierce attacks, on the back of a might of the majority, in future, if this country does not turn into an Afghanistan, there won’t be any need to find an excuse to run US led pilotless drone attacks. Because, as it is now, the Muslims are already tagged/represented as ‘terrorists’ in the world.

I do not know the numbers of other religious followers in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but I know that Muslims are the majority. The US is least bothered about the people who are being killed regularly through drone attacks there, although it is often worried about the violation of human rights elsewhere and it is a ‘shopfront for trading the human rights’ across the globe. Who knows that in the same ‘shopfront’ a formula is also being prepared and sold for us?

We need to look after ourselves. Our relations with the US and India are solely based on national security (including domestic security) and economic affairs; nothing else. We have no say in ‘good’ or ‘bad’. If this is not correct, then fifteen hundred Hindu temples and many houses would not have been burned spreading the rumour: Saydee was sighted in the Moon. Or, thousands of Hindu properties and assets would not have been plundered to build the Rampal Power Plant.

We would have seen reconstruction work to build these Hindu temples and houses, if ‘They’ exerted any pressure. But it did not happen. I dearly wish that that Sathiya would prove me wrong. It would stop the corrosion of our bones.

I want to finish by asking an explanation for a frequently used word – the section 28 of our constitution states that the state will not discriminate against anyone based on their religion, race, colour, sex or the birthplace – then how officials designated at various positions of the state do use the word ‘Minority’? Is this solely a misunderstanding, malpractice or a deliberate violation of the constitution?

Barrister Jyotimoy Barua is a lawyer at the Supreme Court. 

The Bangla version can be read at:


নভেম্ভর ১০, ২০১৩

সত্য কী? বাল্মিকির ব্যাখ্যায় যে সত্যের সন্ধান আমরা যুগযুগান্তরে করে এসেছি– কালের বিবর্তনে তা আজ অসাড় হয়ে গিয়েছে। আমাদের সামনে সত্য নিত্যই তার পরিবর্তিত রূপ নিয়ে হাজির হয়। আমরা আমাদের পঞ্চ ইন্দ্রিয়ের মাধ্যমে যা দেখি, শুনি বা অনুধাবন করি তাও অনেক সময় কুহেলিকা মনে হয়। আমরা বিভ্রান্ত হই।

অন্যভাবে বলতে গেলে বলতে হয়, আমাদের বিভ্রান্ত করে। গত সপ্তাহের হরতালে, মনির নামের কিশোরটিকে সারা শরীরে আগুন নিয়ে কাঁদতে কাঁদতে যখন হেঁটে যেতে দেখি– তখন আমাদের চোখে দ্বিধা কাজ করে। মনে হয় ডিজিটাল কারসাজি। পরদিন সংবাদপত্রে একই ছবি দেখে মনে হয় ‘ফটোশপের’ কাজ।

3 thoughts on “Barrister Barua: Reading the truth (of communal violence)

  1. I don’t understad, how were minorities particularly affected (more than majorities) in Rampal land clearance. Was it a “minority majority” area? If the same tragedy (losing your home) affects both communities, why is it more bad for the minority? Let’s not confuse issues. Bad things happen in our country and everyone gets affected, we should not just focus on one group.

    Actually, majority in our country is worse off. As majority is poor. So, minority – the rich – rules over the rest. It’s not a majority friendly country at all.

    1. @ Shamim: Barua is not using the word “minority’ in the mere quantitative sense. He is referring to religious and cultural minorities in Bangladesh.

    2. @ Shamim: Barua is not using the word “minority” in the mere quantitative sense of it. He is referring to religious and cultural minorities in Bangladesh.

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